The Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission and Hinesville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization last Thursday invited 40 leaders from local governments, business and industry, education and Fort Stewart to form a Stakeholders Advisory Committee as part of the planning group’s three-year Forward 40 initiative.
These community leaders have been asked to assist the LCPC and HAMPO in adopting the Comprehensive and Long Range Transportation Plans for the county and its cities. Committee members will help educate citizens about the planning process and gather community input, said Jeff Ricketson, LCPC executive director. The city governments in Liberty County have appointed representatives to the committee. Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas said Vicki Davis, executive director of the Hinesville Downtown Development Authority, is the city’s representative.
Liberty County Commission Chairman Donald Lovette has asked former commission chairman John McIver to be the county’s representative, because he has been a part of the planning process and understands the issues facing the county, Lovette said.
“Proper planning is key to a successful community,” the chairman said.
The comp plan sets policy on where and how the area should develop. It encompasses a myriad of factors, such as economic development, population projections, housing and infrastructure needs, public services, land use, and cultural and natural resources. The comp plan must be submitted to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs for approval by June 30, 2016. It last was updated in 2008.
The LRTP is a 25-year plan for the expenditure of federal and state transportation funds. This plan is due to the Georgia Department of Transportation by Oct. 19, 2015.
“The LRTP will address the area’s highway, transit, freight and non-vehicular needs through the year 2040,” Ricketson said.
Lovette said there are plans in the works for a freight route in order to divert heavy truck traffic from Highway 84. He said big trucks would travel from Highway 119 to Barrington Ferry Road and then onto Highway 17.
Both the comp plan and the LRTP are required by law and are issued every five years.
Ricketson said three public workshops will be scheduled “to get as much public participation and awareness as we can.” The committee will meet quarterly with LCPC planners to “review existing and projected conditions and develop recommendations,” according to the LCPC executive director.
The comp plan is a guide for public investment and is used daily by the planning department to make recommendations on approving specific development proposals, Ricketson explained.
“From 2008 to now, there’s been a major shift,” he said. Five years ago, a recession hit after the area had experienced a residential construction boom, Ricketson said, and when the economy bottomed out, a lot of developments didn’t come to fruition.
“There’s a different mindset now as far as the development prospects of South Georgia go,” he said.
“There’s still some residential development, but not at the same pace as was experienced at the midpoint of the last decade.”
Industrial and commercial development has increased somewhat in Coastal Georgia, he said.
Liberty County Development Authority Chairman Allen Brown concurred with Ricketson’s assessment.
“There does seem to be a shift toward industrial and commercial development,” Brown said.
Because industrial sites already exist in the county, such as at Tradeport East, it should not significantly impact the plans, he said. However, there will need to be efforts made to identify appropriate sites for commercial development and plan ahead for traffic patterns and other impacts on infrastructure, Brown said.
“We are very fortunate to have that interest in commercial and industry. Both are very good for our community,” he said.
Ricketson and Thomas addressed the potential impact Fort Stewart will have on planning.
For the first time in 12 years, the 3rd Infantry Division currently is not poised for a major deployment, according to Ricketson, and therefore more military members assigned to Fort Stewart likely would remain in the area.
Thomas said there is no doubt Fort Stewart will impact growth in Hinesville and Liberty County.
“We have more soldiers at Fort Stewart than we’ve ever had before. Even with the loss of the brigade, we have more soldiers,” he said.
Thomas said planning for increased traffic and infrastructure needs is imperative to adequately meet the needs of military members and their families. He said he and other government officials will follow the committee’s reports and will vote on the finalized plans.
“If people support the comp plan, they’ll support efforts to realize the plan,” Ricketson said, referring to voters potentially approving the next list of SPLOST projects. SPLOST is a 1-cent sales tax that is used for capital projects, such as building construction, and the installation of infrastructure, such as roads and water and sewer systems.
Rachel Hatcher, former HAMPO planning director, helped Ricketson facilitate the committee’s formative meeting. Hatcher is employed by Reynolds, Smith and Hill, a facilities, infrastructure and aviation consulting firm based in Jacksonville, Fla.
The next Stakeholders Advisory Committee is set for Jan. 21, 2014.